Nancy Jones. It had been five years since we’d last heard from her. She was as pretty as she was damaged and we all tried to look out for her. In vain. Nancy was the cynosure of all eyes, her auburn hair was always disheveled and her dimples lit her face up every time she smiled. But she always carried an air of elegance, too mature for someone her age. She sought them out too, the mature types, so enamored by the nostalgia, a nostalgia that was never hers to savor. Nancy wanted so badly to be different, to have her own story to tell, to the extent that she would shove all our worries and remarks aside and embark on her own odyssey of life. On her own terms.
Five years had elapsed since her blood was found strewn across a mobster’s living room. They didn’t find her body. It was in August and throughout the rest of that year, the doom hung like an anvil over our heads. We clung to the vague hope that she was still around because we could feel her undying presence in our hearts. But that was years ago and nothing came out of our dreams and hopes. Nancy was forgotten, only remembered in the In Memoriam section of newspapers. Only kept alive through our memories of her. Only mentioned when sharing her frivolous anecdotes, her disappearance rarely ever brought up.
When she died, the cops rummaged through all her belongings and all of it ended up in the Evidence Section of the local bureau. The only things they’d left behind were some of her clothes and possessions that weren’t deemed crucial to the case. Her parents had all of those items shipped to a local storage facility and just like that, all proof of her existence had vanished. Then… the digital card saw the light. I received a call from Miriam, who couldn’t hold her breath, and I only understood half of what she was saying. We met at a coffee shop.
Miriam and I had last spoken at our high school graduation. We went our separate ways, although we preserved the bonds of sisterhood that once included Nancy as well. Miriam and I had vowed to keep her alive in our hearts. We had been a close-knit circle and it was impossible to get over our shared memories, especially when death was involved.
Miriam looked glum, perched over her smartphone, when I approached her in the bustling coffee shop. We shared an awkward hug before settling in our seats. She looked like she was part of a major breakthrough and her excitement was almost infectious.
”So, what is it? Why wouldn’t you tell me on the phone?” A young attractive waiter appeared in front of us, eager to take our orders. Miriam inched closer to me, lowering her voice almost to a whisper, her eyes ablaze with wonder.
”You remember how we were trying to get a hold of Nancy’s shit but no one would give us anything? I just moved back to my parents’ house and I was going through my high school things when I found this diary that we all used to write into. Do you remember it?”
”Paeans of Sluts.” Nancy came up with the name. Each one of us would get the diary for a week, to write mostly about boys. While Miriam and I would be supine in the description of our wannabe relationships, Nancy’s entries were replete with the sort of schoolgirl erotica one would expect from the title.
”Yes well, I found a digital card in it, almost by coincidence! I went through it and it was Nancy’s secret stash of R rated pictures if you will.”
”Jesus Miriam. She’s dead! Why are you going through her nudes?”
”They never found her body! It was her and that old guy she was madly in love with. The one she met at the hotel.”
”What was his name again? They had broken up months before her death.” Miriam was getting visibly upset at the mention of the word ”death.”
”Ray something. She told us they’d broken up because we were trying to get her to ditch him. But those pictures I found, they were taken in July, that’s one month before she disappeared.”
”So she was seeing that guy on the sly. Jesus it’s been 5 years. We’re 23 now, adults. She’s gone and I think it’s time to move on. If the cops couldn’t find a thing, I don’t think two Sloane rangers are going to.”
”Okay but look at those pictures,” she said, almost shoving her smartphone into my face. The images were vivid, Nancy exuding her famed natural beauty, with Ray by her side. They looked content, worry-free. Another picture, cigarette dangling from her plush lips, Ray hugging her from behind. Absolute bliss. Another one, Nancy naked in someone’s bed. Lower belly tattoo, Ray. Something clicked.
”Miri, when did she get that tattoo? She never told us about it.”
”That’s the thing, she kept a lot of things from us. Just look at those pictures. It’s not the Nancy we would hang around with at the mall. I mean sure, she was a little precocious. But in these pictures, she looks like she was married to the guy. And she looks kind of mature as well, for an 18 year old.”
Almost every image was the two of them, looking blissfully in love. And yet Nancy had sworn that she had left him prior to starting school. She had met him on holiday, and she’d been smitten from day one. He was a tall, stocky man, whose age she would never reveal. But we could guess he was way older, at least older than 35. Nancy loved it. She loved the thrill that he afforded her, she thought everything was cool to a certain degree. Then, everything moved past that line. She gained notoriety.
”The last time we spoke, she called at 2 in the morning. It was 2 days before her disappearance. She was telling me how excited she was to go shopping with us and how she didn’t want to go to college because she found fulfillment in other things. She sounded a little tipsy.”
”Yeah you told me that. When we last spoke, she sounded sad, almost contrite. I did feel something was eating her up. Nancy could be such a positive person but she never knew how to face adversity.” It was an understatement. Nancy never knew adversity before she met Ray.
”Do you think she enjoyed all the stuff she was doing? I mean, even now I cannot fathom enjoying those things.”
”You mean like the cocaine, the sex and all that crap? We knew Nancy since she was like 11. Of course she enjoyed it, she was born for it. She wore that lifestyle like a badge of honor.” Miriam had always lived vicariously through Nancy. She eulogized this lifestyle while I maintained a safe distance.
”But do you remember that time she was so wasted and she was telling us how Ray would do her…pretty violently?” Miriam doubled over with laughter.
”Of course! That’s why she was with him I suppose.”
”Miri, I have to be somewhere, send me those pictures via email.” I stood up, ready to leave when I caught a glimpse of Miriam’s expression. While she had remained upbeat throughout our conversation, she suddenly looked dour.
”What is it?”
”I can’t send you the pictures via email for the same reason why I couldn’t really speak on the phone. About the details.”
”And why is that?”
”Ray gave me that SD card. He says she’s alive and she will try to reach out.”
”What the fuck?” Miriam leapt to her feet, shushing me.
”Calm down! She’s out there and she will come back. But not before Ray gets this thing done…”